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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Diphtheria

Updated on December 31, 2008

This is a bacterial disease which primarily impacts the throat, nose, tonsils, or skin and was not too long ago a major global scourge of a disease that was extremely wide spread throughout the world. These days the disease is most common in socioeconomic groups of relatively low income, where individuals live in crowded conditions, and primarily in undeveloped countries. Children under the age of fifteen who have not been immunized are most likely to become infected with the disease.

The virtual elimination of diphtheria in recent decades is one of the most significant success stories of vaccination research. Unfortunately the disease has not been totally and completely eradicated as in the United States there are still a handful of cases every year.

Cause – The cause of Diphtheria is a bacterium (Corynebacterium diphtheriae) whose name is based the Greek word koryne, or "clubshaped." The bacteria reproduce well in dark, wet places such as the throat, mouth and nose of an infected person and are easily communicated to other individuals during coughing or sneezing as well as through direct contact with the discharge from throat, nose, eyes, skin, and lesions. These bacteria are not capable of being effectively aerosolized and they are infectious to humans alone. Crowded and unhygienic places can assist the spread of these germs from one individual to another. Recovery from the infection does not always grant immunity to further infections.

Symptoms - Once it establishes itself in the area of the tonsils, C. diphtheriae has the tendency to produce symptoms at a significantly faster than almost any other disease causing organism by creating a very strong exotoxin. Symptoms will generally appear in a few days of being exposed. Diphtheria presents itself in two separate ways: one type affects the nose and throat, and the other affects the skin. Diphtheria generally develops in the throat, causing red sore throat, weakness, high fever, and headache. Swelling may be present, along with a gray membrane that almost totally covers the throat. This gray membrane is so invasive that it can seriously interfere with common functions such as swallowing and talking, as well as causing an unpleasant, strong smell. If the membrane expands to the point where it covers the windpipe, breathing can thus be blocked and the patient end up suffocating. The exotoxin which the bacteria produces can end up spreading right through the body and can cause serious damage in the tissues of the heart, kidneys, or nervous system. When the heart becomes inflamed it can often lead to death. In the skin type of the disease, there can be a considerable nubmer of lesions which may be swollen, red, and extremely painful.

Treatment - Diphtheria is a disease which is not just preventable but it is also quite treatable. It is important to note that if the course of treatment is inadequate or not started soon enough, the extremely strong toxin produced by the bacteria can seep throughout the human body and thus can cause severe complications. Intensive and immediate hospital care and effective treatment with a diphtheria antitoxin is generally indicated in these cases.


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